Progress Toward Our Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Goals in 2023

February 4th, 2024

In early 2020, Upstate Forever published our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Statement. This statement laid out the steps our board, leadership, and staff would take in the years to come to ensure that Upstate Forever’s work to protect our region’s critical lands, waters, and unique character represented and served the full breadth of the Upstate community.

After a year of implementing Upstate Forever’s 2023-2027 strategic plan, our team wants to share some of the DEI work we have accomplished. Below is a status update regarding the goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion set forth in 2020.

If you'd like to see progress from past years, take a look at our 2021 and 2022 progress reports.


Upstate Forever’s mission is to protect critical lands, waters, and the unique character of the Upstate region. We envision a future that is healthy, vibrant, and prosperous. To realize that vision, we know it is vitally important and essential to our core values that we engage the diverse community we serve.

1. To develop and advance long-lasting, equitable solutions for balanced growth and natural resource protection, our leadership is committed to working intentionally to engage a broader base of Upstate residents in the coming years.

Efforts toward this goal include, but are not limited to:

  • Land Conservation staff participated in a stakeholder meeting focused on better connecting and engaging with black farmers in Greenville County. The meeting was sponsored by Greenville Women Giving and conducted by the Greenville County Historic and Natural Resources Trust.
  • The Clean Water team worked with partners in source water protection areas to provide financial assistance to low-income homeowners to fix failing septic systems.
  • UF hosted a roundtable event in May focused on equity in the electrification of the transportation sector (EV Equity Event). We specifically invited and met with community leaders and neighborhood association presidents from low to middle income communities. The event centered around opportunities for equitable electrification as well as the historical inequities related to transportation access and harms from infrastructure siting (e.g., building highways to divide neighborhoods of color).
  • Land Policy staff reached out to leaders of Special Emphasis Neighborhoods for this year’s Citizens Planning Academy and had a diverse pool of applicants and participants from the Hispanic or Latinx, Black or African American, Asian or Pacific Islander, and Caucasian/White communities.

2. We will build staff knowledge and capacity related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We will frequently ask ourselves — who is impacted by this work, and how is their voice represented in the conservation and advocacy solutions we seek? We will amplify the stories of underrepresented stakeholders in the conservation movement — especially people of color.

Efforts toward this goal include, but are not limited to:

  • The Energy Advocate has been providing leadership and resources to the SC Energy Justice Coalition (EJC), a new group that is addressing the drivers and solutions to energy burden, which disproportionately impacts communities of color. UF presented on energy efficiency resources available to energy-burdened communities during EJC’s November meeting.
  • 2023 DEI competency needs resulted in three trainings throughout the year. A training on Heir's Property with guest speaker Josh Waldon, COO of Center for Heirs Property Preservation, took place in January. The DEI Facilitator conducted two in-person trainings with staff in May and October. The May training focused on cultural competence and modeling inclusion, and the October training focused on multi-generational collaboration in the workplace.
  • In February 2023, the Communications team conducted an interview with The Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation that was published on the blog and posted to social media channels.
  • The Fall/Winter 2023-2024 Upstate Advocate featured quotes from local leaders on the connection between conservation and economic development. The leaders featured represented the diverse Upstate community, including three leaders of color.
  • On October 31st, five UF staff members participated in the Greenville Chamber’s 7th annual Diversity Summit entitled REDEFINE: The Path Forward. The day-long event included fireside chats and six different breakout sessions designed to elevate the work of DEI and optimize its impact at the organization level, which will influence systems and mindsets and lead to greater sustainability, productivity, and community prosperity.
  • The DEI facilitator is participating in Cornell’s online Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Certificate Program beginning at the end of 2023. The program includes four courses: “Improving Engagement,” “Countering Unconscious Bias,” “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Work,” and “Fostering an Inclusive Climate.” These courses will support ongoing staff trainings and potentially help influence external efforts. There will be more updates on progress in 2024.
  • For Black History Month, we shared our interview with The Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation and highlighted how heirs’ property is the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss.
  • During Hispanic Heritage Month, we encouraged the underrepresented Hispanic community in Spartanburg to weigh in on the Tyger River Recreation Region process by using the Google Translate enabled tools on the project’s new website. In Spartanburg County, studies show that the highest percentage of people who identify as Hispanic live in areas without equitable access to public greenspace even though their participation rate in outdoor recreation has increased by 20% since 2015. We hope the Tyger River Recreation Region will be a great amenity for this community.
  • In November of 2023 for Native American Heritage Month, we reminded followers of how the Upstate is the ancestral land of the Cherokee People and home to stunningly beautiful natural wonders. We honored the names given to the region by the Cherokee generations ago to show the Cherokee history that survives in the beauty of the land they stewarded: Jocassee, Keowee, Toxaway, Eastatoee, and Oconee.

3. Finally, we will take deliberate steps to build authentic community partnerships and cultivate new leaders at all levels of our organization — from our membership to our staff to our board — to ensure that we better represent the community we serve.

Efforts toward this goal include, but are not limited to:

  • The Board Nominating and Governance Committee is actively seeking recommendations for community members well suited for board service who would also expand board diversity. The board includes two members of color  and our first board member from the Hispanic community, and we continue to recruit strong women. Our goal is to build a board that better represents the community we serve.
  • We have begun exploring options for alternative approaches to our conventional hiring process, which typically draws a fairly homogenous pool of candidates, both racially and ethnically. We are proactively working to identify a diverse pool of candidates for open positions.

If you have any questions about our DEI work at Upstate Forever, please contact Elizabeth Swails

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